Eva Cox: Why I agreed to be the Fabians’ National Patron

I think we need the Fabians to advocate for the social policies that are missing from current party agendas. We need influence options that recognise that we are citizens, wanting a social contract, not customers looking for a bargain, in societies not economies. Hopefully, we can reduce the trust deficit by letting voters see their political representatives as creating more civil societies.  

 

Watch this video highlighting Eva’s passion for social justice and debate

https://vimeo.com/257827529

This video shows me in full voice, talking about the society I want to live in, in various contexts. My bio explains why I have a lifelong passion for creating a Truly Civil Society. I was born in Vienna in February 1938, a few short weeks before the Anschluss, Hitler arriving with troops to add Austria to his Nazi empire. My family lost their citizenship because we were Jewish, and became refugees. I ended up in England with my mother in 1939, while my father went to join the British army in Palestine.

Being a refugee, was awkward, billeted in people's spare bedrooms, but my clearest early memory was a Kindergarten teacher, allocating percussion instruments. She denied my request for a drum, explaining they were for boys, as were the cymbals so girls got triangles and the tambourines. I was cross and complained to my mother I didn't want to be told that girls only got ones that made less noise. So I became a feminist and alert to unfairness. I was also puzzled about being a refugee, why did we have to leave our home?

After a couple of years in Rome (1946/8), we came to Australia. My father, who was very into world saving, worked on displaced prisons for the UN. I became a reffo at Bondi Bech public in a very white Anglo Australia. So I realised from an early age that what I experienced was unfair and I wanted to fix it for myself and others. As an adolescent, I met Edna Ryan, a formidable feminist, ALP activist, when I went to guides with her daughter. so I learned it was possible to make a difference.

So politicised, I grew up believing I should/could stop inequities. This got me into trouble at school and stimulated my interest in politics. In the mid 1960s, at Sydney University, I was involved in setting up the ALP club, to counter the communist run Labor Club, but didn't join the party. Instead, I found the Sydney Libertarian Push, which allowed me to become both a socialist and anarchist. Told they were contradictory, I said socialism created fairness, and anarchism showed those in power didn't have to dominate. I still manage the contradictions.

I joined the ALP in the early seventies, to stop white Australia and the Vietnam war. Then came 1972 and Whitlam so I was very flattered to realise it was his shoes I would step into. I qualified as a sociologist at UNSW, returning to study as a sole parent. I also was an early member of the Women's Electoral Lobby, to pursue my feminist/left agenda. I left the ALP in the 80s as I found they were too caught up in numbers, power and factions to do good policy stuff and I was able to influence more externally.  

I've been an academic, a political advisor, consultant, teacher, researcher and welfare advocate over the past decades. I taught research and advocacy and policy at UTS, and am currently an unpaid Adjunct Professor in the Indigenous research unit. I have done a lot of media and in 1995, I delivered the ABC Boyer lectures on a Truly Civil Society, which raised the importance of social capital as the trust glue that holds societies together. I was very concerned even then that the emphasis on individual self interest, greed, markets and materialism was undermining social cohesion so we must recognise humans are social beings, and need emotional connections!

This viewpoint fits with my socialist, feminist and even anarchist views as it recognises we live in societies, not economies and we need social links. As we have inbuilt senses of fairness and we need to have both agency and connections to others, as well as a sense of belonging. So, simplistic economics that assume we are only connected materially doesn't work as it excludes feelings, ethics and connectivity. Neoliberalism sucks pallid imitations, such as Blair and Keating and now Shorten follows, and can't meet good social goals.  We have to set social goals and use economic means to pay for them.  

How do we fix the current distrust and inequities?

We need to develop good social policies that recreate trust in both governance and other people to counter the distrust derived by translating citizens into customers. We need to nurture the community services, not run government funded services like businesses. We need policies for shared collective risk taking, and value the common good and universal services to make the roles of the state visible and reassuring. Multiple surveys confirm growing distrust and populist views - anti democratic options that echo the downfall of Weimar pre-WW2.

Can we devise, revise and revive the elements for agreement about national aims and priorities to move into an uncertain future? Can we revalue diverse social cohesion and trustworthiness as the necessary basis of the social contract between citizens and their rulers? High trustworthiness is needed to deal with the environmental crises and many social inequities that are dividing us.

So we need to remedy the serious gaps in social policy and re-create vision (the light on the hill?) to re build trust. The ALP is still captured by economic dominance and neoliberal light. Its faction system limits creative policy making and its related think tanks share these biases. They are scared to be innovative, take risks or move to more social arenas. Yet it must, to move to pick up angry voters who want something to believe in, and feel they are contributing to the common good. Positive policies that offer good visions of the future would help.

So I accepted the role of mentor, as an activist, to push for debate and action on leading policies for the future. We need to attract members who want good social futures as its structure and links offer possibilities to influence adoption of social visions policies that attract progressive voters who are looking for something better than what is currently on offer.

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